U of M celebrates biggest Indigenous graduating class with virtual powwow

The University of Manitoba had a momentous day on Saturday, celebrating the graduation of more than 500 Indigenous students — the largest cohort the university has ever had.

For the second year in a row, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university held a virtual powwow to celebrate its self-declared Indigenous graduates. This year, there are 510.

Kirsten Fleury —  a Métis biology student — was among them.

“I’m just so proud of all of us,” she told CBC Manitoba’s Weekend Morning Show before the ceremony took place.

“I think it’s a great example of showing us that, you know, we’re still here and we’re a really resilient group of people and that we’re just going to keep achieving bigger and better things,” she said.

Fleury hopes to start medical school in the fall, but she really wants her work to give back to Indigenous communities.

“Most importantly, I hope that I’ll be able to continue to do my work that I’ve been able to do, working with Indigenous communities, native communities, specifically looking at health and wellness,” she said.

Fellow graduate Stewart Hill, who is Cree from God’s Lake First Nation, addressed his fellow students in the virtual ceremony, saying that education opens doors.

“Once you have that degree, it’s yours for life,” he said. “No one can take it away from you. It’ll benefit not only you, it’ll benefit your children, it’ll benefit your family.”

Hill earned a PhD in natural resources and environmental management. He currently works as a senior research and policy analyst at Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs spoke at the ceremony and commended graduates for their perseverance during a difficult year.

“Our ancestors have undergone genocide, they’ve undergone incredible things, but here we are today,” he said.

“You are a testament to the generations of the past, you are a testament to the conviction and the strength of our leaders and our families and our people.”